Sinkhole closes Avon’s Swift Gulch Road |

Sinkhole closes Avon’s Swift Gulch Road

AVON — A large sinkhole opened up Monday beneath Swift Gulch Road in Avon, closing a portion of the street for at least a week. It’s the biggest problem reported so far in the area’s late winter/early spring return to the freeze/thaw cycle.

Tracy LeClair of the Eagle River Fire Protection District said that the hole opened up beneath the road. The road surface remained intact. It was discovered by accident, and the hard way.

LeClair said a worker on the new public safety facility for the fire district and Avon Police Department was having lunch. The man walked around the front of his pickup truck and fell into the hole. He was able to call for help and was pulled out by other construction workers.

LeClair said the man was taken for a medical evaluation and was shaken, but mostly unhurt.

At its entrance, the hole was perhaps six feet in diameter. But, LeClair said, the very bottom of the hole beneath the road is perhaps 20 feet in diameter. Really looking inside the hole required use of a remote camera from the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District. No utilities were affected by the hole. Town of Avon crews will spend the rest of this week evaluating the hole and make needed repairs.

Until it re-opens, people using the road — mostly residents of the Buffalo Ridge apartments and those who work at and use the town’s vehicle maintenance facility — can use the eastern end of the road, near the Post Boulevard exit on Interstate 70.

That’s not always the case when a road closes. When a large sinkhole in 2012 closed U.S. Highway 24 between Red Cliff and Leadville, commuters were forced to use a detour that included a trip over Vail Pass on Interstate 70 and over Fremont Pass on Colorado Highway 91.

Eagle County Emergency Coordinator Barry Smith said during that closure, police, ambulance and fire crews from Lake County had to answer calls in Eagle County on the south side of the sinkhole.

“That’s why we have mutual aid agreements,” Smith said.

Specific causes can vary, but Smith said sinkholes have one thing in common: moving water. That water often starts to move as snow melts, usually a bit later in the year.

But moving water can cause other troubles, usually through the freeze/thaw cycle that comes from cold nights and relatively warm days.

In the daytime, snow melts and water trickles into cracks in rocks — or pavement. Cold nights re-freeze that water, which expands those cracks. The result can be rockfalls — which have already closed U.S. Highway 24 over Battle Mountain a few times this year.

Those rockfalls can be dangerous.

Tracy Trulove, the Colorado Department of Transportation’s spokeswoman for northwestern Colorado, said crews have already had to deal with numerous rockfalls in the region. A large rockfall partially closed Colorado Highway 133 Monday. That rockfall came on the north side of the highway near Paonia Reservoir.

A small boulder in Glenwood Canyon Feb. 10 disabled a heavy truck, and caused flat tires on a pair of passenger cars. Another Feb. 10 rockfall on Colorado Highway 9 just north of Silverthorne was “the size of a small pony,” Trulove said.

“People have to be hyper-aware this time of year,” Trulove said.

On the road, the freeze-thaw cycle can loosen holes in pavement. Vehicles then kick up those loosened chunks, causing potholes.

And potholes are simply everywhere right now. There’s a particularly bad stretch on U.S. Highway 6 through Eagle-Vail. At least one of the deeper ones has damaged at least a few vehicle wheels.

Potholes can grow quickly, too. A hole at the top of the westbound I-70 off-ramp at Gypsum in the span of a week or so roughly tripled in diameter.

In a recent interview, Trulove said those holes are especially hard to fix this time of year, even if they aren’t full of water from melted snow. Permanent patches require warm daytime temperatures. Crews will get out and do temporary patching, but those patches generally have to be replaced when the weather warms up.

Until even the temporary patches can be laid, all motorists can do is be on the lookout.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, or @scottnmiller.

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